Remembering Grandmama: A Life of Beauty and Strength

I wrote these reflections shortly before the death of my grandmother, Dede Robertson, and was asked to read them at her funeral. She was a phenomenal woman who has inspired me and many others. Here are a few memories of my early experiences with her.

A Gift from Grandmama

When I was around 17, I remember getting a card from Grandmama that said something along the lines of how “you have the world in your heart.” She gave me a small globe necklace with semiprecious stones, and it’s still something I cherish and am wearing today. Because more than anyone else, Grandmama (or Mamas) taught me how to love the people and nations of the world.  

Laura grandmama baby
Early years with Grandmama

From an early age, she exposed me to life beyond what I currently knew. In addition to taking us to see the Nutcracker ballet each Christmas, she would bring us to see Bible plays done by children at her church, which in my mind, were destined for Broadway. She’d also take me along to watch her and her friends play tennis, but my favorite part was having lunch with the ladies after they’d finished a match. 

Grandmama’s House

Her beautifully decorated house also gave me a taste of excitement and adventure. She had a room full of exquisite Korean dolls safely tucked behind a glass case in addition to the well-loved Barbie dolls from the 1960s on the third floor. Downstairs was filled with Chinese porcelain and tea sets, which we relished using for the occasional tea party. It was especially fun when she’d let us wear some of her glamorous clip-on earrings or play with her fur coats.

Grandmama, Laura, Lisa, and Elizabeth dressed up in our finest tea party outfits.

Other people have cookie baking grandmothers, but mine was infinitely better making mouth-watering peach cobblers and knock-you-naked brownies. I’m sure her children got sick of all the soybeans, but her grandchildren enjoyed delicacies like pansy-adorned salads on elaborate china plates. Yes– pansies are edible, but they don’t have much flavor unless you dip them in sugar, as she did. 

Tadpoles

We’d also take advantage of the other extreme world of adventure when she would take us to the stables to see Granddaddy’s horses or let us play in the yard. We loved collecting tadpoles in the pond behind her house! 

One fateful day, she was driving my sister Elizabeth and me home in Granddaddy’s brand new car, and a quart full of tadpoles met an untimely demise in the backseat. I was devastated by the loss of life, but Grandmama didn’t lose her cool and just told us to keep this our little secret. I’m not sure Granddaddy ever found out. 

Grandmama and Mountain Memories

Visiting her in the Virginia mountains was another favorite destination. As a child, I adored “the great big yellow house” nestled in the town of Hot Springs next to the Homestead. If I listen closely, I can still hear the hooves of the horse-drawn carriage rides at Christmas. 

When they built their mountaintop house a few years later, we had so many wonderful memories of being “in the bosom” of the family. It didn’t matter what was going on in the lives of individual family members or what type of drama existed beneath the glory cloud on Higher Ground. 

Those weeks with the family watching the magical fireworks on the fourth of July, playing games of “family” with the family, doing puzzles, or hiking through mountain passes were a sweet oasis of togetherness. We all ate at the large round table, usually far too much. And if we were really lucky, she would transform some fresh mountain peaches into cobbler or pie for dessert.

A Life-Changing Trip

One of my favorite adventures with Grandmama happened when I was fourteen years old and went with her on a medical mission trip to El Salvador with Operation Blessing’s Flying Hospital.

Grandmama donned her scrubs and put her nursing talents to good use helping patients recover from surgery while trusting me to help out in another clinic that was about an hour or so away from where she was. Many grandparents would have been overprotective or even patronizing with their grandchild in a foreign country.

But not Grandmama. We would go our separate ways for much of the day and then reunite and share the wonderful ways we saw God at work. I also realized what a fun and vibrant grandmother I had. Our days often culminated with bouts of uncontrollable laughter as I watched both of my grandparents, who had such joy in what they were doing. 

Ready for a trip with my grandparents
Ready for a trip with my grandparents.

A Beautiful Life

Grandmama taught me how to enjoy the flavor and beauty of life. Because of her, I learned the proper way to eat a mango, cutting it into little squares, popping them out, and then eating it with a fork. She was a woman who, days after meeting with the El Salvadoran president and other dignitaries, worked diligently in the medical clinic. And she still had time to take her granddaughter shopping at the local marketplaces just so I could find little trinkets to bring home to the family. I still have the clay nativity set and wooden tissue box holder.

Without the encouragement of one of my first and favorite travel companions, I don’t know if I would have spent years learning Chinese or visiting so many countries. I also doubt I would have the unwavering patience and determination to enter an entrepreneurial lifestyle. Few others understand how to nurture the shared God-given calling on you and your husband in spite of all the obstacles you encounter.

Peter Laura Grandmama
Peter and Laura at Grandmama’s birthday party

Grandmama weathered all of those storms that came her way, and then some, with dignity and grace. She taught me not to be afraid but to trust God completely. She knew how to press on and endure in the face of danger and uncertainty because God’s plan was infinitely better than the present trials. 

A Glimpse of Heaven

When I was 16, she and my grandfather brought me to India on another trip with the Flying Hospital. One evening, we rode together to see an Indian crusade with a sea of thousands, further than the eye could see. They were praising God and singing. 

It was a glimpse of heaven. 

And Grandmama is now there as she sees God face to face. 

My heart aches to think of a world without being able to share more adventures with her. But as she begins her greatest journey of all, I am full of such joy and thankfulness for a life well-lived.

Grandmama brought beauty to the world in so many ways. Her boldness, strength, eye for beauty, femininity, and sense of wonder are all qualities I aspire to and hope to impart to my own children and ultimately grandchildren. I thank God for every moment I was able to spend with her and the little reminders she’ll leave through her knitting, painting, and many gifts. 

Thank you for sharing your world with us.

Three and four generations with Grandmama, Babby, Honey, my daughter, and me.

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